The Warded Man by Peter V. Brett takes a common trope in fantasy and flips it slightly on its head. It is a hero journey, one that all fantasy readers have seen (and I’d say mostly everyone enjoys, otherwise why would we read fantasy?), but what Mr. Brett does is alter this journey in an interesting way, not so much as revolutionize the trope, but to give it a different outlook than we are used to seeing.
The land in which this story takes place is one where demons rise from the earth (or Core, as the book calls it) each night. These demons take different forms based on the location in the world, such as fire demons, wind demons, water, etc. (you get the picture), and these demons come every night, like as they come whether the characters wanted them or not. Humans have been reduced to hiding at night behind wards. These wards are like invisible force-fields that stop the demons from passing, whether they are on a home or portable plates. However, these wards can be marred or broken over time, which results in a bloodbath. The hero journey is about three young children in different small villages and how their lives are affected by the nightly demon attacks. One becomes the Warded Man – a man who found ancient offensive wards and tattooed them on his body, a girl becomes an herb gatherer – a healer and caretaker, and a third boy who becomes a traveling fiddler – who learns he can stop demons with his music.
The one interesting thing I really liked about this story was the face the author went into so much detail about how humans can become fearful and that it can make them weak. This is what I meant by turning things around. Mr. Brett took one third of the book to show how humans have become weak to the nature around them due to not being able to fight back. I though this was very intriguing as a concept and Mr. Brett executed it quite well. As a whole, the human race in this story is not the top of the food chain and this was what drove the story forward. It put humans in the roll of prey and I liked how you never truly knew what would happen next to the supporting characters.
The pacing and the worldbuilding were great and the magic system was new, something I haven’t seen before. I liked how the magic was what made people weak, forced them into submission. The wards were a cool addition. I liked how all the humans knew up to this point in the story were defensive wards, instead of making the magic all-powerful, it made them one-dimensional until Arlen found the offensive ones.
Arlen (aka the Warded Man) was a very interesting character. He saw death and cowardice up close and realized he didn’t want to be chained to that type of thinking his whole life. He starts as a boy and by the end of the novel when he becomes the Warded Man, he is hardened and determined to kill as many demons as he can. My only grip with Arlen was he started as an 11 yr. old and he spoke like he was an adult.
Just as Arlen was interesting, Leesha and Rojer (the other two POVs) were not. Rojer was especially bland and not necessary to the overall story, in my opinion. He starts as a real young child and then has a very boring journey. And the music to sway demons was not interesting, nor was his learning how to become a Jongluer (this story’s version of a Jester). He wasn’t a huge POV character, but I felt he was added just to add.
Leesha was an alright character, one that grew on me, but her entire story-line is my main concern with this story as a whole. The people in this world have only come to think of women as baby-factories. Seriously, most, if not 95%, of Leesha’s arc was about women being seen as nothing more than a manufacturing line of children. Her mother, her friends, her “betrothed” all wanted her to have children, told her it was her duty, she had the body for it, that type of thing. It was only when she became the Herb Gatherer, did it become less about that, but then it reared its head again toward the end. I understand the thought behind the choice to make the people like that, but it got so repetitive that I skipped many times through her arc.
Another thing that bothered me, and this could be that I just finished Blood Song by Anthony Ryan right before starting this book, but the way Mr. Brett started the book with children and the reader saw them grow, was a poor choice. The first third of the book takes place over a few days, maybe weeks, was 150 total pages. The second section, ages them like ten years, but that was only 80 some total pages, and then more years in the future (part 3 & 4) was short as well. It just seemed like there was a ton of buildup in the beginning and then their training and growth was super short and rushed. Arlen became a badass quite quickly, but took an eon to even get out of his little village. I think I may have gotten spoiled by Blood Song because that journey showed the hows and whys of how the main POV got the way he did, while here, the reader is just told. I think it would have worked exceptionally well to have the characters start as adults and slowly flashback how they became who they were. The name of the book is the Warded Man, we knew right away Arlen would become that person and I felt like it could have been stronger to start with him as that and then build him up.
Also, with the pacing, it was a little strange and hard to follow. Each chapter has a date on it, but the story wasn’t chronological. Arlen’s story took place at a different time than Leesha’s and Rojer’s, like years different. Then when they were aged, those dates were mixed up too. It’s not a huge thing, but it was difficult to age the characters this way while reading because I kept having to check the dates to see if I knew how old they should be or not.
The last thing that bothered me was the usage of rape in this story. Now I know I touched on this in my review of Death’s Mistress, but I want to speak on this again. If done correctly, rape can have a major impact on the characters, but if done wrong, it is a glaring misstep. I think this story had the makings of an important message with rape, but it fell flat. Throughout Leesha’s storyline, we are told about women serving one purpose, but she isn’t about that, which in of itself was awesome. She saves her virginity because she has goals for herself and doesn’t want to be just like any other woman out there. That was a great character profile, but then just before all three characters finally meet up, she is raped along the road by bandits. While this sets the scene for some very poignant character development, Leesha decides that she wants to sleep with Arlen to erase her memory of the incident, and if she happens to get pregnant, she can say it’s his child. Now, I’m no expert on this subject, nor claim to be, but I just felt this wasn’t something a person would do in this situation, especially one that was built up to be against this type of thinking. Leesha could have easily been given more depth without that added return to her baser thinking. I don’t know, it could just be my interpretation of the scene, I just didn’t think it struck well at all for the story or the character.
3 out of 5